Defense secretary didn’t ask for new union bargaining rules, unsure if he’ll use them

Defense secretary didn’t ask for new union bargaining rules, unsure if he’ll use them

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday would not commit to using new authority to strip collective bargaining rights from military civilian employees, saying he is still reviewing the recent presidential decision.

Under questioning from lawmakers about potential disruptions to the Pentagon civilian workforce, Esper said he was not involved in the decision by the White House. In a memo made public last week, President Donald Trump announced he would grant the Secretary of Defense the authority to exempt federal employees in the Defense Department from federal collective bargain rules, citing national security concerns.

“This flexibility requires that military and civilian leadership manage their organizations to cultivate a lethal, agile force adaptive to new technologies and posture changes,” Trump wrote, adding that the Pentagon “should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission” to appease union officials.

Trump moves to cut union bargaining for DoD feds

Under the new memorandum, the defense secretary would have the authority to determine whether collective bargaining at certain department agencies and subdivisions hampers national security efforts.

The decision diverges from past use of the exemption authority, which has thus far only been used by the president himself to strip rights from specific components that meet national security concern thresholds.

Esper deflected questions about the validity of the national security claims and said he does not know of any current conflicts between federal union officials and defense leadership.

“But just because I can’t recall an issue right now does not mean that one doesn’t exist,” he said. “I think the prudent thing for me is to wait to see what the analysis comes up from my staff and make an assessment from there.”

Union officials have already decried the move as another public assault on workers rights by the White House. The administration has come under criticism from labor organizations for past attempts to restrict collective bargaining and other union activities.

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